The highly-anticipated BMW i4 is slated to be unveiled this week, and when it and the iX (due later this year) arrive, they’ll come with the latest generation of BMW’s iDrive infotainment system. This year marks the twentieth anniversary of iDrive, which was introduced on the E65 7 Series. BMW’s range-topping luxury sedan was previously the brand’s technological flagship, but that honor has now been passed to the upcoming iX. iDrive 8 is a core component of the technical prowess of the i4 and iX, and is billed as an all-encompassing driver-vehicle interface.
The latest iteration of iDrive is made up of fundamental components which include a 12.3-inch information display in front of the driver acting as the gauge cluster, and a 14.9-inch center control display. Both high-resolution screens are curved and integrated together with orientation towards the driver, and are viewed through non-reflective glass. The entire design is slim and precisely built into the vehicle’s cabin, and has the appearance of floating above the dashboard.
The other central elements are an updated and enhanced version of BMW’s Intelligent Personal Assistant, which is described as being seamless and natural in its operation, and 5G connectivity which will allow regular over-the-air improvements and updates. According to BMW, by the end of 2021, the automaker will have the largest fleet of over-the-air updatable vehicles, with more than 2,500,000 on the road.
Although the upcoming version of BMW’s infotainment system seems to follow in the footsteps of other systems already on the market, the design and integration of iDrive take a decidedly different approach, placing emphasis on aesthetics and the role they play in the user experience and driving experience. Ever-growing screens with a more unified composition are merely the basics at this point; to truly differentiate, appearance, interface, customizability, and ease of use are of newfound importance. It is in these areas where iDrive 8 stands out amongst the competition, and the touches extend beyond what you’ll see on the screens to the glass-effect rotary iDrive controller itself, and the surrounding backlit buttons, which can come optioned in a polished crystal finish.
The current BMW iDrive version, System 7.0, was praised for bringing larger, touch-capable screens, along with gesture control, to the BMW lineup, but was criticized for being too rigid in its appearance when other automakers had already moved on to embracing more open and flexible interfaces on screens where they can effectively display almost anything. This is changing in the upcoming generation, and the new look and feel will be apparent not only the system’s graphical user interface, but in how it can be customized to individual drivers. Various select portions of the system feature different viewing modes, which prioritize differing information and depending on vehicle operation and driver selections.
Speaking of individual drivers, in the past, selections for different drivers of a single vehicle were typically saved to the key inserted in the ignition. These selections include parameters for things like seating positions, climate control settings, viewing modes and styles, navigation system appearance, mirror orientation, and more. With a growing emphasis on intuitiveness and the Intelligent Personal Assistant, BMW’s of the future like the i4 and iX will simply know who is in the driver’s seat, and acclimate things accordingly. The technology is called BMW ID, and it works with the My BMW App on your smartphone to create the ultimate personalized experience this side of Rolls-Royce.
BMW Maps was introduced in 2020 for models with iDrive 7, and is a cloud-based system for route planning and calculation. The system has grown in terms of importance and prominence for iDrive 8, and and uses real-time data and machine algorithms within the BMW Cloud to allow for learning navigation, meaning your car will soon pick up on your driving habits, just like Apple’s Siri can anticipate where you’re likely to go at a certain time, and queue up the map and directions before you depart. This intelligence and data is tied to your BMW ID, and all learned destinations can be viewed either in the vehicle or the My BMW App.
As with any infotainment system (or driving experience, for that matter), the latest iDrive is best experienced firsthand. We’ll all have to wait for the i4 and iX to arrive before that’s a possibility, but there’s a lot to cover with the latest generation, which is described as having been “totally reinvented,” and “designed from the inside out around the driver.” To get the full rundown in a way written text can never convey, check out BMW’s keynote video, and get ready for the next level of driver-vehicle interaction.—Alex Tock
[Photos courtesy BMW AG.]